Why Hipsters Are All the Same

Are you sick of so many bearded, flannel-shirted, thick-rimmed-eyeglass wearers slowing down the lines in your coffee shop before they crowd up your sidewalk as they scoot their way to their artisan butchery class? Are you tired of that quirkily homogeneous mass of humanity? We'll tell you why it exists.

There's a reason why there's a hipster stereotype. Despite being of a class that seems to go out of its way to pursue odd projects and quirky fashions, hipsters, to many, seem aggressively generic. The huge glasses, the skinny pants, the cutesy shirts, and the accessory ukuleles (or harmonicas), make for an indistinguishable blur of humanity. And when they open their mouths! I know I live in San Francisco, but does everyone have to have a start-up these days?

The point is, hipsters inspire wrath because their relentless pursuit of individuality seems to make them almost cardboard cut-outs of each other. Together they seem like a formless mass, invading society.

Or, it's because of out-group homogeneity bias.

Out-group homogeneity bias exists in almost all societies, and almost all subgroups of societies. No matter who a person is, or who they are friends with, get them to look at some other group and they'll say, "They're all the same." The other people in someone's group of friends, co-workers, or acquaintances are wildly different individuals. All other groups are locked in a stultifying or even threatening homogeneity. At its most pernicious, out-group homogeneity bias affects how people look at other races or the people in other countries. Insiders are a group of individuals, each with their own hopes and dreams. The outsiders are a teeming mass, barely distinguishable from one another. In lighter situations, it can be nothing more than a human trait worth a bit of a chuckle. One study of sororities on a college campus found that each sorority thought they were more diverse than every other sorority.

There are all kinds of reasons why we might see outsiders as the same and people inside our circle as different. There's self-protection. Nobody likes to see themselves as a copy of the people around them. There is, unfortunately, prejudice and hatred of outside groups. And there's simple ignorance. When you're in a group, you know information about each person that distinguishes them from the next person in the group. When you're outside a group they all look the same because you don't know enough about them to separate one from the next. That's why you can explain endlessly to people how every job in your company requires a wildly different set of skills, and when you're done they'll say, "So you're all techies, right?" The less you know about a group, the more you push different categories together.

So when we look at any group of people that we're not a part of, we tend not to see them as individuals. That might make some people feel unrighteous, but rest assured, if the psychology is correct, they're doing the same to us.

(Interestingly, one way individual members of the out-group stood out was by displaying aggression. So hipsters, be comforted! Every angry comment will cement you in my mind as an individual.)

[Via Psychological Science, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.]